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Joe Manchin

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) speaks during a news conference with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on December 14, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Al Drago for the Washington Post via Getty Images)

Manchin Sparks Fury With Demands for Work Requirement, $60K Income Cap on Child Tax Credit

"Who besides a cartoon villain would ever think this is a good idea?"

Kenny Stancil

Progressives responded with outrage following Sunday night's report that right-wing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has told the White House that he would only support prolonging the expanded child tax credit—a key component of his party's potentially historic investment in improving social welfare—if it includes a work requirement and limits benefits to households with annual incomes under $60,000.

"The White House needs to tell Joe Manchin 'no'... Six months of appeasement brings stuff like this that will guarantee Dem losses in 2022."

"The White House needs to tell Joe Manchin 'no'" Robert Cruickshank, campaign director at Demand Progress, tweeted in response to Axios' new reporting. "They haven't yet done so and instead six months of appeasement brings stuff like this that will guarantee Dem losses in 2022."

Originally expanded in March when President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, the child tax credit has provided millions of families—including those who are out of the workforce and lack taxable income—with monthly checks of up to $300 per child. If made permanent, analysts estimate that the policy would lift 4.3 million children out of poverty nationwide, including 25,000 kids in Manchin's home state of West Virginia.

Payments are currently set to expire at the end of the year, but House Democrats have proposed continuing relief through 2025. The proposed extension of the child tax credit is included in the Build Back Better Act, a popular bill that would raise taxes on corporations and on individuals with annual incomes above $400,000 in order to pay for a variety of anti-poverty initiatives and climate action.

A recent analysis by Accountable.US found that while approximately 96% of West Virginia children would benefit from an extension of the child tax credit, just 3.4% of West Virginia households—including the yacht-residing multimillionaire Manchin and his coal baron son—would see a higher tax rate.

Critics were quick to denounce Manchin for his hypocritical and punitive attempt to burden impoverished households with an onerous work requirement, which would exclude families with the greatest need for income support.

"Weird that Manchin's obsession with only helping the 'deserving' and resisting an 'entitlement society' ends when it comes to massive tax breaks for rich stockholders and wealthy heirs like himself and his family," tweeted New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie.

"America," noted The Daily Poster's David Sirota, "is a country that offers a preferential capital gains tax rate to rich people who collect passive income without working."

Others pointed out that Manchin's preferred income cap of $60,000 is so low that if adopted, the measure would only serve to punish children who were born into families of slightly higher—but still precarious—means.

"The thing about work requirements for child tax credits is that we all know it's just an idea designed to hurt people," Sirota added. "It's not even pretending to be a serious policy. It's just a sadistic idea deliberately crafted to inflict pain, for no actual reason."

HuffPost reporter Arthur Delaney concurred. According to him, denying the child tax credit to families that earn over $60,000 per year—rather than sticking with the existing cap of $150,000—would only cut program costs by roughly 28% because the majority of current beneficiaries are not affluent.

"Who besides a cartoon villain would ever think this is a good idea?" asked New York state Sen. Julia Salazar.

Democratic lawmakers can pass their ambitious social infrastructure package without Republican support through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process, but they cannot afford a single defection in the evenly split Senate, and they must secure the approval of all but three caucus members in the House given the lower chamber's razor-thin margins.

Despite the best efforts of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to prevent the reconciliation package from being means-tested to death, Manchin, who has raked in $1.5 million in campaign cash from corporate donors since 2011, and fellow conservative Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), a leading recipient of Big Pharma money, are trying to tank Biden's agenda on behalf of anti-working class lobbyists.

"Means-testing is a choice to deprive millions of our neighbors of what they need simply to cope with a budget artificially limited by regressive tax policy."

Backed by Sinema and a few Wall Street-friendly House Democrats led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), Manchin wants to reduce the legislation's topline figure from $3.5 trillion over 10 years to $1.5 trillion over a decade.

When accounting for projected revenue raised through the reconciliation bill's proposed tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the net cost of the Build Back Better Act drops to between $1 trillion and $1.75 trillion over a decade—or a per-year average of just $100 billion to $175 billion—amounting to roughly 0.3% to 0.6% of GDP.

Manchin, meanwhile, has voted for every Pentagon budget since he was elected, rubber-stamping $9.1 trillion in military spending between 2011 and 2020 while continuing to portray himself as "fiscally responsible."

Manchin's attempt to drastically weaken the Build Back Better Act's child tax credit proposal came just two days after the lawmaker—Congress' top recipient of oil, gas, and coal industry donations this election cycle who has refused to answer questions about how he profits from his family's dirty energy business—told the White House that he is firmly opposed to the Clean Electricity Performance Program, one of the reconciliation bill's provisions to decarbonize the nation's power grid.

The West Virginia Democrat's self-interested effort to torpedo policies to promote renewable energy persists even as the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency threatens his constituents with the worst flood risks in the nation.

In addition to exacerbating deadly extreme weather disasters, Manchin's obstruction of the Build Back Better Act could cost his constituents $16.6 billion in public funding and 31,583 jobs over the next 10 years, according to a study released last month by the Green New Deal Network.

Last week, in a Washington Post op-ed decrying the folly of means-testing, Democratic Reps. Mondaire Jones (N.Y.) and Katie Porter (Calif.) argued that "universal programs are good policy and good politics. They build solidarity that helps them stand the test of time—when we all have a stake in the success of a public program, it can withstand changing political winds."

"Medicare and Social Security are so untouchable that Donald Trump ran on protecting them," wrote the duo. "Means-tested programs such as SNAP and TANF, in contrast, have been cut by Democrats and Republicans alike in the past decade."

The pair of lawmakers continued: "We need to show that government can still work for all Americans. We do that by creating programs that are broadly accessible, understandable, and beneficial. That's why the child care program that we fought to include in the Build Back Better Act in the House doesn't include means-testing, and why we're fighting to keep means-testing out of any part of the final bill that’s signed into law."

"Fundamentally," Jones and Porter added, "means-testing is a choice to deprive millions of our neighbors of what they need simply to cope with a budget artificially limited by regressive tax policy. The truth is, there is enough to go around when we make the wealthiest Americans and big corporations pay their fair shares."

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